A Walk in the Woods
A Thru-hikers Review
By: Bryan Wolf
The book was amazing! Most conversations begin or end with the book and how the movie did based off those expectations. For my enjoyment, but also the sake of a fair review I decided to look at the movie independently. It seems only fair to separate the two, after all, in today’s day in age is any movie as good as the book? What book isn’t tainted by corporate sponsorship, time crunching edits, or acting short falls? The poor Dartmouth Co-op was overtaken by big money and replaced with a box store competitor.
So yes, the book was amazing, but I put that aside and instead ask that you watch it with only the eyes of an outdoor enthusiast. Was the trail represented, the trail experience, or the trail culture? Luckily for the AT, much of what makes the trail so spectacular was not represented. A movie that showcased the trails true magic on the big screen could mean an increase in hikers that the conservancy would struggle to handle. So here are some things the movie did wrong and some things they did right.
WRONG: Any hiker nut can point out the simple mistakes. Ask any of us to watch the filming of a backpacking scene, buy us lunch, and we’d be more than happy to coach the actors. Why do they constantly hike with their hipbelts unbuckled? Why are Bryson’s load lifters limp for the first half of the movie? Why did they bring trekking poles but not once did they use them? Why were they still wearing 3 flannels in what would of been June? Why was Bryson always clean shaven? These are not amateur hiking mistakes, they are a poor attention to details that will make the AT faithfuls laugh at the movie for the wrong reasons.
RIGHT: While nothing in the movie is spot on, I’m proud of Hollywood for even getting close. On the AT you are constantly surrounded by strange people, some with attitudes that don’t mesh well. The solution, hike faster, or hike slower. Keeping yourself in good company is a real thing and their judgmental gear junkie friend isn’t all that far fetched. I’d say Mary Ellen was the exception, not the rule, for sure not the best the AT has to offer, but true none the less.
WRONG: What cliff did they fall off? What grand rock wall did they look up from on the AT? The AT has enough risk and “danger” that it doesn’t need Hollywood exaggeration like that of 1,000 foot drop offs. Nor does it need black bears that look like steroid raged grizzly bears. It looks like they shot mostly in the Appalachians, but most green screen or CGI shots are over the top.
RIGHT: The trail was mostly miserable. That was the most accurate part of the movie. When Bryson and Katz are cursing at each other and each deep in their own misery they stumble upon gorgeous overviews of the Smoky Mountains or of McAfee Knob and an overwhelming sense of purpose and satisfaction sweep over them. This is life on the trail 100%.
WRONG: As I noted up top, trail culture was not represented. They somehow made no friends, had or knew no trail names, never had trail magic, met a trail angel, or stayed in a hostel.
RIGHT: Trail etiquette was fun to watch and had some wrongs and rights. I loved how all passing hikers would say hi and have polite interactions. Even the group of young scouts motoring up the mountain each had a different canned response. It is one of the unique things about hiking culture that is completely absent in daily life. People stop and say hello, and have a genuine concern for one another. While the overly preppy hikers asking to help the old men across the stream (an easy crossing by all standards) was overkill, the camaraderie was nice.
WRONG: For a fat man that didn’t lose any weight, Katz sure didn’t talk about food enough. A hikers’ daily life consists of only a few things, walking, getting water, and eating sum up the most of it. Your conversations on the AT consist of even less things, mostly that of food and gear. In that way the movie was yet again terribly inaccurate to the experience.
RIGHT: The movie was funny, enjoy it for what it is. It’s not the book, and it’s not a documentary. If you want a real trail experience that doesn’t need to sell tickets to the mass population try watching a movie like “Appalachian Impressions” of “Flip Flop Flippin’.” If you want some comic relief with stunning views of the Appalachians, then this is it.
Have you seen the movie, if so, what are your wrongs and rights? Add them here.